2015 Recommended Components Preamplifiers

Two-Channel Preamplifiers

Editor's Note: Apart from the CAT, Fi, Shindos, and Placette, all the Class A preamplifiers offer balanced inputs and outputs. And unless noted, the preamplifiers listed do not have phono stages.


Audio Research Reference 5SE: $13,000
The Ref 5 SE is a tubed, remote-controlled line preamp with six sets of balanced and unbalanced inputs, three sets of balanced and unbalanced outputs, and a unity-gain Processor input. It uses 6550C and 6H30P tubes for power-supply regulation, and four 6H30P dual-triodes in the analog stage. Improvements over the original Ref 5 include new Teflon and hybrid coupling and bypass capacitors, new internal wiring, and a vertically mounted circuit board that nearly doubles the earlier version's energy storage. The Ref 5 SE exhibited incredible detail retrieval, bold and nuanced tonal color, outstanding dynamic range, and large soundstages with a slightly forward perspective, said BD. "The Reference 5 SE gets my highest recommendation," he concluded. JA noted superb measured performance. Compared to BJR's reference Audio Valve Eclipse, the ARC offered longer decays and resolved more inner detail but lacked some low-end impact. (Vol.35 No.11, Vol.36 No.2 WWW)

Audio Research SP20: $9000
ARC's first full-function, line-plus-phono preamp in ages—and their first-ever preamp to offer a headphone output—the new SP20 is a pure class-A, fully balanced, hybrid design. Its 19"-wide chassis blends styling cues from ARC's early days with a modern touchscreen, and the SP20's similarly modern remote handset provides control over volume, source selection, channel balance, cartridge loading, stereo/mono switching, absolute phase inversion, and more. The preamp uses a total of four 6H30 dual-triode tubes and provides 13.8dB of line gain, plus up to 58dB of phono gain. BJR cited the SP20's "detailed, delicate, extended high frequencies," "bass beyond reproach," and "superb resolution of detail"—and surprised some of us by declaring the new preamp's phono section superior to his (very) long-term reference, the Vendetta SCP-2D. Regarding line-stage performance, BJR maintained a slight preference for the better "high-level dynamic slam" of his Audio Valve Eklipse. JA's measurements gave the "well-engineered" SP20 a clean bill of health, noting in particular the phono section's "extremely accurate" RIAA equalization. (Vol.37 No.6 WWW)

Ayre Acoustics KX-R Twenty: $27,500
It would seem an impossible task: improving on a preamplifier—the Ayre KX-R—that sounded better to JA than no preamplifier at all. But that was the hurdle set for the new KX-R Twenty, named in honor of Ayre's 20th year of operation. More of a complete redesign than an upgrade of the original, the KX-R Twenty employs AyreLock, a new, proprietary approach to power-supply regulation that seems equal parts calculus and poetry. Also involved were similarly big changes to the active circuitry, including the adoption, in this model, of the "diamond" output circuit of the company's X-5 series—if only because, in the words of chief engineer and CEO Charles Hansen, it proved to work "so insanely well." Of his time with the new Ayre, JA wrote, "Some highly resolving audio components achieve their transparency to what has been captured on a recording by emphasizing detail. The Ayre simply cleaned the window." JA's listening notes were ripe with examples of fine performance at various sonic tasks, but in the end, his view was holistic: "The Ayre evoked the words Peter Schaffer has Antonio Salieri saying, in Amadeus, about the entry of the solo oboe in this music: 'This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God.'" (Vol.37 No.12 WWW)

Ayre Acoustics K-5xeMP: $3500 ✩
Like all of Ayre's 5-series products, the K-5xe uses the Ayre Conditioner, a built-in RFI filter that works in parallel with the AC line to reduce background noise, grain, and hash. The original K-5xe added nothing to the original signal and had no sonic signature of its own. ST: "It just got out of the way" subsequently adding that this "superb solid state line-stage preamp is everything you could ask for: neutral, detailed, dynamic, exceptionally low noise, fun to use." JA felt high Class B was a fair rating for the original version; the Maximum Performance (MP) version incorporates rare, low-noise Toshiba J-FETs for the output buffer stage. The K-5xeMP had dynamics equal to that of the original K-5xe, but produced quieter backgrounds and had a friendlier, more accurate overall balance, with better delineation of images within a wide, deep soundstage. Though it lacked the top-end air of the Parasound Halo JC 2, the Ayre sounded warmer overall, with a fleshier lower midrange. Its measured performance was "about as good as it gets for a solid-state preamplifier," said JA. Black finish adds $250. (Vol.29 No.5 original version; Vol.34 No.6 MP version WWW)

Boulder Amplifiers 2110: $55,000
Given that its predecessor, the model 2010, enjoyed a 17-year run in Boulder Amplifiers' product line, much was expected of the new 2110 line preamplifier: a multibox solid-state model in which user functions are optically controlled to eliminate noise, and whose six inputs are characterized by an impressive degree of adjustability and flexibility of configuration. All of its inputs and outputs are fully balanced, addressed only with XLR jacks, and the 2110 goes the 2010 one better by adding a fully differentially balanced volume control. Using the Boulder 2110 with his darTZeel NHB-18NS mono amps in balanced mode, MF observed that "[it] produced image intensity, physicality, and solidity that were unprecedented in my experience. First take: a giant Wow." MF elaborated: "It made recordings I know to be truly exceptional sound even more so through my system." With the Boulder pre on his test bench, JA observed, "The 2110's distortion is so low, in fact, that it taxed my ability to measure it." JA ultimately pronounced the 2110 "the best-measuring preamplifier I have encountered." (Vol.38 No.3 WWW)

Classé CP-800: $6000 ✩
A new breed of audio component, the versatile CP-800 is a remote-controlled, solid-state preamplifier with a touchscreen display, DSP-implemented tone and equalizer controls, 10 digital inputs (AES/EBU, three S/PDIF on coax, four S/PDIF on TosLink, asynchronous USB, front-panel USB host connector), five analog inputs (two pairs balanced, three pairs unbalanced), and seven analog outputs (three pairs balanced, three pairs unbalanced, and a front-panel headphone jack). One of the first products to come from Classé's Chinese manufacturing plant, the attractive, solidly built CP-800 shares the curved aluminum front panel of earlier Classé Delta-series products. Though it lacked some flesh and warmth, the Classé produced a clean, clear, and detailed overall sound, with an especially delicate treble, said JA. On the test bench, the Classé's digital input showed about two bits' worth less resolution than the current state of the art, but its analog performance was beyond reproach. (Vol.35 No.9 WWW)

Convergent Audio Technology SL1 Renaissance Black Path: $9995 ✩
The latest iteration of the heralded SL1 boasts a new circuit-board layout and improved power supply. It also includes an A/V bypass, user-selectable gain, and a switch-selectable, moving-coil transformer for the phono stage. Compared to the SL1 Ultimate, the Renaissance offered greater transparency, resolution, and dynamics, said RD. JA noted "superb measured performance and an equally superbly linear circuit topology." Phono stage adds $2000. (Vol.32 No.11 WWW)

Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems Momentum: $32,000
Among the most beautiful pieces of audio gear" that MF has seen or touched, the Dan D'Agostino Momentum echoes the sculpted aluminum-with-copper, quasi-steam-punk cosmetics of the Dan D'Agostino Momentum power amplifier—but with a chunky, round volume control/level meter in place of the amplifier's chunky, round, output-power meter. As MF observed, "The complementary, balanced, zero-feedback Momentum is DC-coupled, has no capacitors in the signal path, and features fully discrete circuitry with no op-amps. Volume adjustment is via an optical controller and resistor ladder." User controls for the line-level-only, low-gain Momentum—all available on the impressive remote handset, most on the front panel—include absolute signal polarity, channel balance, source selection, mute, and tone controls. The main unit and its curvy and cunningly designed outboard power supply—the former sits atop the latter—are electrically connected via a multipin umbilical. After listening, MF commented: "In the Momentum, Dan D'Agostino has produced a preamplifier that duplicates the Momentum amp's delicacy, transparency, three-dimensionality, and especially its liquidity and freedom from grain without softening transients—all floating above the blackest backdrops." Summing up his measurements, JA noted that "the Momentum preamplifier lives up to Dan D'Agostino's reputation for heroic audio engineering." (Vol.37 No.8 WWW)

darTZeel NHB-18NS: 31,700 CHF ✩
The "stunningly transparent" darTZeel offered spectacular transient speed, resolution, and decay, while providing an overall coherence that "made recorded music, analog or digital, sound much closer to live," said MF. Bass lacked some authority, and the sound sometimes had "a slight velvety finish." With its warm, vivid combination of red chassis and dark gold front and rear panels, the NHB-18NS "looks like it sounds." Its fully dual-mono design, lack of global negative feedback, and ultrawide bandwidths are meant to eliminate phase shifts at the frequency extremes. JA was "puzzled" by some aspects of the darTZeel's measured performance, particularly the much poorer performance through the balanced inputs and outputs, but was overall impressed by the level of audio engineering. Compared to the harmonically rich Musical Fidelity AMS Primo, the darTZeel offered a more clinical sound: tighter bass, greater transparency, more precisely defined images, shorter sustain, and a diminished sense of musical flow. Compared to Einstein Audio's The Tube Mk.II, the NHB-18NS sacrificed bass weight for greater top-end air, transient speed, and bass extension, said MF. The darTZeel matched the resolution and transparency of the mbl 6010 D while managing to sound less mechanical, said MF about his reference preamp as of summer 2008. (He bought one!) US price will depend on the exchange rate from Swiss francs. (Vol.30 No.6, Vol.31 No.10, Vol.33 Nos.5 & 10 WWW)

Lamm Industries LL1 Signature: $42,790
The dual-mono Lamm Industries LL1 Signature may not be the only four-box line preamplifier, but, according to BJR, it stands as "a stunning design" "stunningly executed." With design roots in the driver stage of Lamm's ML3 Signature power amp, the single-ended LL1 uses four high-transconductance 6N30P dual-triode tubes, connected in parallel, in the preamp stage of each channel, plus two 6X4 full-wave rectifier tubes in each channel's outboard power supply. In his listening tests, BJR described being "floored by the several areas in which [the LL1] achieved levels of performance I hadn't thought possible," mentioning in particular the Lamm's "sense of unfettered, dynamic ease and drama," its "clean, crisp, uncolored, fast, deep, gut-slamming bass" (we think he liked it), and the LL1's "ability to render each instrument within its own dynamic envelope." JA observed, "Summing up the LL1's measured performance is easy: This is a superbly well-designed preamplifier." (Vol.37 No.8 WWW)

Luxman C-600f: $9000 ✩
The solid-state C-600f has five single-ended and two balanced inputs, two single-ended and two balanced outputs, and a tape-processor loop, but no phono stage. Its bass and treble controls, as well as phase inversion and channel balance, are operable from the supplied remote control. Partnered with Luxman's MQ-88 power amplifier, the C-600f has an open, transparent sound with "a wonderful balance of detail and warmth," said JM. (Vol.35 No.4 WWW)

mbl 6010 D Reference: $26,500 ✩
The 77-lb 6010 D is an impressive-looking, superbly finished preamp with a black-lacquered façade, gold-plated volume and input knobs, and top-mounted input-level trim pots and tape-monitoring buttons. The MBL sounded "very quiet, transparent, and dynamic," with a slightly lean bottom end and "slightly aggressive but airy, clean, and well extended" top end, said Mikey. Though the 6010 D's reproduction of space was good, it could not match the image dimensionality or soundstage width and depth of the darTZeel NHB-18NS. Its measured performance, however, was "beyond reproach," determined JA. Used in an all-MBL system with Reference 9011 monoblocks driving Radialstrahler 101E Mk.II loudspeakers, the 6010 D worked to create clean, extended top octaves, fast transients, and a taut, muscular low end, said MF. Price includes remote and balanced input. (Vol.31 No.10, Vol.35 No.3 WWW)

Music First Audio Baby Reference: $8590 ✩
Slightly larger than Music First's less expensive Classic v2, the Baby Reference passive preamp measures 9.75" W by 3.4" H by 10.1" D and is available with a black, blue, red, or clear anodized faceplate. Standard connections include two balanced XLR inputs, four unbalanced XLR inputs, and one pair each of balanced and unbalanced outputs. Like the Classic, the Baby Reference provides 24 discrete volume steps, including mute, but forgoes the Classic's +6dB gain switch and uses a larger, more complex transformer. The sound was smooth, sweet, and extended, with exceptional transient speed and surprisingly deep bass, said ST. "[The Baby Reference] is the best preamp I've had in my system," he concluded, "probably because it's not a preamp at all." Compared with the Promitheus Audio Reference TVC4, the Music First offered deeper bass, cleaner treble, greater openness, and less dynamic congestion, said ST. (Vol.35 No.10, Vol.36 No.5)

Music First Audio Classic Magnetic V2: $5290
The Classic Magnetic V2 transformer volume control (identified as the V2 when reviewed) has two balanced and four single-ended inputs and one pair each of balanced and single-ended outputs. For improved low-frequency response and power handling, it uses transformers with mu-metal cores 25% larger than those found in the original Classic Magnetic. The sound was clean, smooth, and transparent, with surprisingly taut bass, said ST. (Vol.35 No.6)

Nagra Jazz: $11,650–$14,500, depending on options
The Jazz is a tubed line preamp with one pair balanced and four pairs single-ended inputs, and one pair balanced and two pairs single-ended outputs. It uses a 12AX7 dual-triode input-stage tube and a 12AT7 gain-stage tube. Measuring 12" W by 3" H by 10" D and weighing 7 lbs, it has a faceplate machined from a solid billet of aluminum, giving it the rugged, purposeful look and feel common to Nagra components. Though it lacked some bottom-end impact, the Jazz had a clean, clear, revealing sound with an uncolored midrange, extended highs, and lightning-fast transients, said BJR. "I enjoyed every piece of music I listened to through the Jazz, even when it ruthlessly revealed differences in recording quality," he concluded. JA noted excellent measured performance. (Vol.36 No.4 WWW)

Parasound Halo JC 2 BP: $4795 $$$ ✩
Styled to match the JC 1 power amplifier and finished in the same brushed, natural aluminum, the JC 2 exhibits a high standard of construction. Each channel of the fully balanced JC 2 is on a separate PCB, with the audio and control power supplies on separate circuits, isolated from each other by 3/8"-thick aluminum partitions. ST was impressed by the JC 2's noiseless operation and excellent reproduction of space, which allowed music "to emerge intact—with body, bloom, and dynamics, with definition and detail—from an utterly silent background." JA agreed, but decided the JC 2 sounded best with warmer-sounding amplifiers and speakers, when it excelled in the areas of images and dynamics. "Perhaps the finest solid-state line stage I have heard," sums up ST. "This is what a great line stage does: lets all the other components perform at their best. The Halo JC 2 matched the Ayre KX-R in terms of openness and sparkle, but sounded leaner and could not reach the Ayre's level of deep musicality, said WP. Compared to the Simaudio Moon Evolution P-7, the JC 2 sacrificed body for leading-edge definition, felt JA. One of Stereophile's "Joint Amplification Components" for 2008. Configured for home-theater bypass, the BP version of Parasound's excellent JC 2 preamplifier ($4795) has a revised circuit board and front-panel control board that make possible the hybridization of a traditional analog two-channel system with a modern digital multichannel system. The Halo JC 2 BP looks almost identical to the Halo JC 2, with only the Bypass LED on the front panel and the letters "BP" added to the labeling front and rear. It offers both balanced RCA and unbalanced XLR inputs and outputs. KR heard no difference between a direct connection from pre-pro to power amp and a connection via the JC 2 BP's bypass function. Owners of existing JC 2s can have their units upgraded to BP status for $500. (Vol.30 No.12, Vol.31 Nos.3 & 11, Vol.32 No.3, Vol.34 No.6 WWW; 'BP version Vol.34 No.3 WWW)

Pass Labs XP-30: $16,500
In its conventional two-channel model, the XP-30 comprises three separate chassis: one each for its control circuitry and power supply and each channel's audio circuitry. Using additional chassis, the XP-30 can be expanded to as many as six channels. Each audio chassis has both a Master and a Slave analog output, duplicated on balanced XLRs and single-ended RCAs; and six analog inputs, also duplicated on balanced XLRs and single-ended RCAs. The XP-30 uses an integrated-circuit volume control. It virtually transported JA to recording studios and performance spaces, consistently drawing his attention to aspects of music rather than of sound. "The XP-30 has rekindled for me the concept that the beating heart of an audio system is the preamplifier," he said. Measured performance was superb. (Vol.36 No.4 WWW)

Placette Audio Active Line Stage: $6995 ✩
The Active Linestage is intended to combine the transparency of Placette's purist Remote Volume Control with a usable level of functionality, providing five sets of unbalanced inputs, two sets of outputs, and a tape loop. Its absolute clarity, focus, solidity, and transparency were unrivaled in BD's experience. "Highly recommended." Sold direct, with a lifetime warranty and 30-day refund policy. (Vol.30 No.11 WWW)

Promitheus Audio Reference TVC: $890 $$$
Made by Nicholas Chua in Kuala Lumpur, the TVC4 passive preamp is housed in a compact (12.2" W by 3.75" H by 9" D) chassis made of merbau, an endangered Malaysian hardwood. It has two transformers per channel, separate left and right volume controls, and offers four pairs of unbalanced inputs and two pairs of unbalanced outputs. Though it lacked the tight bass, extended treble, and transparency of the much more expensive Music First Baby Reference, the TVC4 produced a warm, rich, tube-like sound, said ST. "Promitheus Audio's Reference TVC4 is worth the money and more," he concluded. Add $80 for shipping to the US from Kuala Lumpur. (Vol.36 No.5)

Shindo Masseto: $13,500 ✩
Like the less-expensive Aurieges, the Masseto is a full-function preamplifier, but adds a selectable choice between moving-magnet and moving-coil phono inputs. The dual-mono power supply is based on a pair of Philips 6X4WA rectifier tubes, the phono stage uses one Philips 6189W and one Philips 12AT7 per channel, and its line stage uses a single LCP86 triode/pentode per channel. With a "stunningly low noise floor," the Masseto consistently conveyed music in a way that allowed Art to become fully immersed in the performance. "Time after time," he said, "I found myself responding to my hi-fi the way I respond to real music." The Masseto's stock input MC transformer was "quiet in every way," and worked especially well with Art's Miyabi cartridge, providing "loads of texture, and enough drama to keep me happy indefinitely," he said. AD's reference preamp since 2007. Current model uses the same basic line, phono, and power-supply circuits found in the original, but has a fancier faceplate. Art has found that the Masseto does not respond well to isolation devices, aftermarket AC cords, or alternate tubes, and he recommends very gentle insertion and removal of interconnects to avoid damaging the Masseto's fragile Switchcraft RCA jacks. Still, the Masseto remains "satisfyingly musical and downright right," he said. "The most beauty you can buy for this kind of money." (Vol.30 Nos.7 & 10; Vol.36 No.6 WWW)

Simaudio Moon Evolution 850P: $30,000
The solid and beautifully built 850P is a two-chassis, dual-mono line-stage preamplifier with three balanced and four unbalanced inputs, a monitor/signal-processor loop, and two sets each of balanced and unbalanced outputs. It uses Simaudio's M-Octave mechanical damping system to decouple the audio circuit board from the chassis with eight compliant feet, each made of an elastomeric material and pre-loading chosen for their ability to damp the frequencies relevant to that part of the board. The 850P's complex power supply incorporates 40 examples of Simaudio's unique Independent Inductive DC Filtering topology, and its M-Ray volume-control circuit allows the user to precisely and quickly fine-tune the level in increments of 0.1 or 1dB. The sound was exceptionally transparent, with expertly reproduced transients, sharp image focus, and an outstanding sense of space, said BD. "No doubt about it," JA agreed—"Simaudio's Moon Evolution 850P is one of the best-measuring preamplifiers I have encountered." (Vol.36 No.12 WWW)

TAD Laboratories C600: $42,000
Part of TAD's Reference line, the C600 is a dual-mono, solid-state line preamplifier with a substantial external power supply. It measures 17.5" W by 5.9" H by 17.2" D, weighs almost 64 lbs, and has an attractive chassis of brushed anodized aluminum. It offers three unbalanced and three balanced inputs, two unbalanced and two balanced outputs, and two buffered Tape outputs. Each of the C600's inputs is associated with its own relay-controlled preamplifier, ladder resistor attenuator, and gain stage. The C600 combined airy highs, a somewhat lean midrange, and powerful bass for a sound that was exciting, resolute, and ruthlessly revealing, said MF. "TAD's C600 is a meticulously designed and exceptionally well-built high-tech wonder," he concluded. "Its construction and audio engineering are beyond reproach," JA added. (Vol.36 No.6 WWW)

VTL TL5.5 Series II Signature: $8000
VTL's most expensive all-tube preamplifier retains the basic circuit topology of the original TL-5.5 with a lower-gain, high-current 12AU7 tube circuit, a 12AT7 tube buffer, minimal negative feedback, and a low-impedance output stage. It uses a new, precision-regulated power supply and has a 117-step, chip-based differential volume control. There are two pairs of inputs that can be operated in either balanced or single-ended mode, as well as six additional single-ended inputs. Though it wasn't as resolving or detailed as the Nagra Jazz, the VTL produced delicate highs, a voluptuous midrange, and punchy bass, said BJR, adding "an extraordinary sense of lower bass extension and high level dynamic slam." "VTL's TL-5.5 Series II Signature is a nicely engineered preamplifier that offers no measured compromise resulting from its use of tubes," added JA. Optional phono stage adds $2500. (Vol.36 No.6 WWW)

Ypsilon PST-100 MK2: $37,000 ✩
Made in Greece, the PST-100 is a handsome tubed preamplifier housed in a thick, satin-finished aluminum chassis. It features transformer-based attenuation, 6CA4 tube rectification, choke supply filtering, a switchable passive mode, and a zero-feedback active stage based on a carefully selected Siemens C3m pentode tube. Though differences between the PST-100's active and passive stages were small, MF preferred the passive stage for its purer, more transparent sound. Compared to the darTZeel NHB-18NS, the Ypsilon produced more vivid tonal colors and greater physicality. "For now," MF concluded, "the Ypsilon PST-100 is the most transparent and, therefore, the most perfect audio component I have ever heard—or not heard." Though XLR input and output jacks are provided, the circuitry is unbalanced only. Without a line stage, the completely passive PST-100 TA costs $26,000. (Vol.34 No.7 WWW)

Zesto Audio Leto: $7500
As BJR put it, the word that best describes the technical design of the "drop-dead-gorgeous" Zesto Audio Leto line-level preamplifier is simplicity: its per-channel tube complement of one 12AX7 dual-triode and one 12AU7 dual-triode provides up to 12dB of gain—which the user can switch to 3dB, if the need arises to stay within the volume control's most accurate range. All switching is done with reed relays, and BJR described the stripped-down remote control as "the most minimalist I've ever encountered." In addition to single-ended operation, the Leto offers transformer-coupled, true-balanced inputs and outputs. The Zesto Leto was capable of great musical delicacy, BJR noted, and "it most impressed . . . with its ability to articulate transients." He was also "astounded by the Leto's wide and linear dynamic range," although, on the downside, "the Zesto seemed to run out of gas a bit in the loudest passages; in short, [its] dynamic range seemed to stretch only from ppp to ff." In his measurements, JA was impressed overall, noting in particular that "the Leto's distortion signature doesn't change with level, frequency, load impedance, or at different volume-control settings." (Vol.37 No.4 WWW)


Parasound Halo P 7: $2295 $$$ ✩
Full-featured analog stereo preamp with six stereo inputs, balanced and unbalanced outputs, front-panel headphone and MP3 jacks, and an MM/MC phono preamp—See "Multichannel Components." Delightful sound but "falls asymptotically short of the delicacy of the Nagra and Simaudio preamps I have used," says KR. (Vol.32 No.1 WWW)

Parasound Halo P 5: $1095 $$$
The 2.1-channel Parasound Halo P5—the ".1" hints at the P5's three subwoofer outputs, which incorporate user-adjustable high- and low-pass filters—is a solid-state line-and-phono preamplifier equipped with a balance control, defeatable tone controls, an analog iPod input, electronic source switching, a headphone jack, and a built-in 24-bit/192kHz D/A converter with a USB input. AD observed: "On paper . . . the Parasound P5 seemed like an awful lot of product for the money; that impression was borne out in my system." He described the preamp as slightly dry sounding but with "enduringly good musical flow and momentum, and superb freedom from distortions of pitch or timing." While the P5's built-in DAC was pleasantly clear, AD suggested that it was no match for the more colorful, substantial Halide DAC HD; in his measurements, JA concurred, saying the P5's digital section is best "regarded as more of a convenience" feature, while praising the analog preamp's "excellent performance at an affordable price." (Vol.37 No.4 WWW)


Emotiva Control Freak: $49
To the minimalist audiophile whose system combines a single source component with an amplifier that lacks a level control, the Emotiva Control Freak would seem a boon. The Control Freak even dispenses with the box: It is, as ST put it, "A set of interconnects with a volume control in the middle." Other than that, the only thing ST had to say was, "I love the feel of the Emotiva." There you go. Balanced version costs $59. (Vol.37 No.12)

Schiit Audio SYS: $49
ST, to whom the concept of a simple and gainless preamp has great appeal—"Why do you need so much gain if all you're going to do is dial it back[?]"—was attracted to this latest piece from Schiit. The SYS provides two pairs of input jacks, a switch for choosing between them, a volume control, and one pair of output jacks. Compared with an $8500 transformer-based passive preamp, the Schiit disappointed in its lack of ability to "expand dynamics and quiet background noise." But, said ST, "The Schiit SYS preamp introduced no crap of its own. No power-supply noise, no tube farts, no glare." His verdict: "You almost owe it to yourself" to try the Schiit SYS. (Vol.37 No.12)


Luxman CL-38u, Simaudio Moon Evolution 740P, VAC Signature Mk.IIA.


Conrad-Johnson ET3 SE, Fi 2b, Shindo Vosne-Romanee, all not auditioned in a long time. 

dalethorn's picture

Interesting that Digital Processors and Signal Processors are separate categories, given that I encounter the term 'DSP' (Digital Signal Processor) so often. Maybe it's a hardware-software thing.

corrective_unconscious's picture

The digital processors are DACs or things to route digital sound somewhere. There is some overlap if there's a CD player with inputs to its DAC, and some overlap with preamp/DACs, some of which of those might have some additional, secondary digital EQ functions.

The signal processors are mostly about varieties of digital EQ, with again a few hybrid products having some secondary functions.

The separation seems clear enough to me. It is the whole universe of modern audio which seems complex, i.e., the products themselves.

John Atkinson's picture
dalethorn wrote:
Interesting that Digital Processors and Signal Processors are separate categories, given that I encounter the term 'DSP' (Digital Signal Processor) so often.

The Digital Processors category is almost exclusively digital/analog converters. The Signal Processors category is reserved for things that do something to the signal and includes analog-domain processors, such as the BSG Q0L.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dalethorn's picture

I'm going to profess a bit of ignorance here, so .... one of the places where DSP or some variant shows up in my world is related to music players such as built into the Pono device, or in computer software such as Foobar2000 etc. The great thing about EQ included in these players (or as plug-in software) is that the digital data gets EQ'd before it hits the DAC, so that whatever DAC or amp is used, the EQ remains constant in playback. Ignoring any negative impact on the EQ due to which peripherals are used, I've always assumed that EQ pre-applied to the digital data as described will reduce the resolution of the playback. If that's true, are there common analog EQ solutions that would provide better sound?

tdixon's picture

Does this mean there are no plans for an app being released like there were in previous years?

John Atkinson's picture
tdixon wrote:
Does this mean there are no plans for an app being released like there were in previous years?

Unfortunately, that's correct. No plans. However, this website reprint replaces the standalone free app.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Dushyant's picture

From your comments prefacing the Recommended Loudspeakers 2015, I understand that category A (Full Range) has LF extension down to 20Hz. What about B (Full Range) and C (Full Range)? Do they also need to have LF extension down to 20Hz? If not, what is the LF extension for inclusion? For the restricted LF I assume that LF extension is to 40Hz for all categories. Clarification will be helpful and appreciated.


leesure's picture

Despite there being 25 Class A preamps, there are only 2 Class B preamplifiers (both from the same company) and NO class C Preamps? There are 18 Class A Power Amps and Zero Class C or D Power Amps? I thought, "Perhaps there are just no products that fit those categories any more. No more Adcom's. No more B&K's." But then I looked around and found that there ARE musically satisfying budget electronics.

So I am left to wonder...do they no longer submit their products for review or is Stereophile no longer interested in reviewing them?

I began reading Stereophile in my 20's when there was no way I could even consider a $10,000 amplifier. I aspired to a system like that, but also loved reading about gear that I could stretch to afford. I loved building a musically satisfying SYSTEM for well under $10,000. Had I only been able to read about the gear that was so far out of reach, I would likely have dropped the hobby altogether. Without the bridge, I would never have been able to get across to the ultimate destination. That bridge is being taken away from the next generation of Audiophiles.

I think that's a real shame.

Christopher Mankiewicz's picture

Kal, Please let me know. Thanks, Chris